The Philosophy of Art -- By: James Lindsay

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 068:270 (Apr 1911)
Article: The Philosophy of Art
Author: James Lindsay


The Philosophy of Art

James Lindsay, D.D.

Anything like a Philosophy of Art must be taken to be a late product. Long and strange was the sleep of the beautiful after the time of Longinus: not, indeed, until the eighteenth century did the architectonic skill of Baumgarten wake the science of the beautiful by the not very pleasing name of “æsthetics.” For it remains the great merit of Baumgarten to have been the first, among modern philosophers, to give systematic treatment to the beautiful in connection with the general conceptions of philosophy. Hence followed, in due course, such great contributions to the philosophy of art as those of Lessing.

So far as early attention had been at all bestowed on art, Plato had tended to lose the beautiful in the good, and to confine art to representation of the good. Plato’s efforts towards the purifying of erotic sentiment were of a very mild character. He had no clear realization of the fact that the beautiful and the good belong to different categories — the former emotional, the latter volitional. Plato took the reduced view of art as mere imitation, thus raising what is, no doubt, the first form of art impulse, to the unmerited place of representing the essential nature of art. But Plato had the merit to do great things for the theory of form, especially in the “Philebus” and the “Timæus.” The object, it should be said, was supposed by Plato to exist as an “imitation” of the Idea: the

Idea was the intelligible reality of which the object was the appearance. Plato held matter and form to be combined in all things, and that “measure and symmetry “always mark any such combination that is of value. In his theory of form, every species is taken to have a definite normal type — certainly a valid and valuable working hypothesis. Plato further made the provisional conjecture—it can hardly have been more — that the form of a species is determined by law of its own, not by blind or accidental forces. And such a conjectural generalization is proof of the illuminated character of Plato’s mind, rough conjecture only though we take it to be.

In Aristotle’s “Poetics,” his fragmentary theory of the art of poetry sets out from principles of art in general, and he follows in the path of Plato, only that his view of the function of imitation was a higher one. Aristotle still keeps the theory of art in essential relation to the ethical effects of beauty. Plotinus has great honor by his early attempt to frame a metaphysical aesthetic, which he does in his treatise on beauty. The conception of the beautiful — divine “intelligible “beauty — Plotinus first in any real way made independent of the good and the perfect.

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